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VFL: Cats cook Roosters

Troy Selwood's VFL update Troy Selwood gives you the rundown on how the VFL is faring this year
Billie Smedts of the Cats in action during the AFL Round 14 match between the Geelong Cats and Port Adelaide at Simonds Stadium, Geelong. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Billie Smedts was best afield for the Cats against North Ballarat

A four goal haul to Ryan Bathie was the icing on the cake for the Bendigo Bank Cats in their seventy-three point roasting of the North Ballarat Roosters at Simonds Stadium on Saturday.

Traditionally lining up on the oppositions most potent forward, Bathie has taken to the role reversal with gusto, slamming home eight goals in three games along with a swag of goal assists.

The Roosters looked capable of pushing the Cats, coming off a three game winning streak, while the Cats struggled for three quarters against 16th placed Coburg last week.

Once the ball was bounced however, expectations were made obsolete. The Cats hunted with a ferocity that mirrored the intensity of the AFL counterparts, applying constant pressure to the Roosters forcing turnovers to capitalise on.

Jed Bews went down with an ankle strain in the warm up phase to be replaced by Piers Flanagan.

The injury news got worse immediately for the Cats as young star Nathan Vardy went down with concussion after coming to earth with a crash from a high flying effort in the first minute of the game.

Vardy was stretchered off and took no further part in the game.

Coach Matthew Knights was full of praise for his players and staff for managing the rotations despite losing Vardy and having to manage the game time for returning players Josh Cowan, Jarred Rivers and Travis Varcoe.

“We had a few issues before the game, Jed Bews rolled his ankle in the warm up and we had to replace him with Piers Flanagan,” he said.

“Vards going down in the first play phase is very unfortunate (for him).”

“With two players down, even though we could replace Bews, it was a significant effort to win by that much against a team that has been playing well.”

This didn’t slow the Cats even slightly, as West took control of the ruck giving good first use to Billie Smedts, Mark Corrigan and George Horlin-Smith.

Smedts in particular was in the running for a Best on Ground performance up until he was rested after half time in order to fill the AFL emergency role for the later game against Hawthorn.

“I thought he was clearly best on ground before he went off, he was in outstanding form,” Knights said of Smedts.

“His clearances were good, his quick feet were good and his execution of disposal was really was really polished.”

“He is ready to go up and play AFL footy if required.”

Travis Varcoe and Jarred Rivers both made it through their return from injuries unscathed, with both players working their way into the match as the game wore on.

Varcoe found his run and pace, while Rivers stood firm in defence collecting important key marks across the halfback line.

Both Varcoe and Rivers echoed each other when expressing relief to be out on the field once more.

Varcoe was happy to play his role in the many different positions handed to him during the game, while Rivers looks forward to playing again next week in the blue and white.

“It’s such a really well run club, I have come into a successful club and I am trying to earn the respect of my peers and the guys you look up to, which is a good challenge,” said Rivers post match.

The Cats lead at every change and never looked in danger of being bested by the Roosters, thanks in part to a seven goal to two second term.

Mitch Brown again impressed in defence and had plenty of support from Eardley and Condy.

Eardley’s ability to put pressure on contests while outnumbered and out mark much bigger opponents was on display throughout the day, while Condy’s dash and ability to read ahead of the play saw the Cats get good rebound of the back half.

Focal points
Cats did their Homework:
As Matthew Knights alluded after the game, North Ballarat are one of the top sides for uncontested marks and retaining disposals, therefore it was imperative for the Cats to work out how to shut down the Roosters kicking game. The simple solution the Cats implemented was unrelenting pressure; the Roosters only took five contested marks for the match. Any uncontested marks that played on were met very quickly with tackle pressure, with the Cats roughly doubling the Roosters in the tackle count. Gleeson, Raidme and Cowan sprung like traps in the midfield laying over a quarter of the teams tackles for the day between them. Every player landed at least one full tackle through the match. Walker and Bathie flexed their muscles up forward to keep the Cats in their forward half which resulted in an 86% inside 50 score conversion rate, and 50% inside 50 goal rate. The Roosters were under the pump all day, and the scoreboard reflected this.

Starts at the Stoppage:
More than half the Cats score came from stoppages against the Roosters. Why? George Horlin-Smith. Josh Cowan. Ben Raidme. Mark Corrigan. Dom Gleeson. Troy Selwood. A veritable dream team of midfielders that any VFL- perhaps even some AFL teams would love to have on their list. Given great first use by some deft ruckwork from Trent West, this A-Team rounded up possessions in stoppages like a border collie in a paddock full of merino. Horlin-Smith is back to his silky best and combined well on many occasions with the rampaging Billie Smedts. Raidme’s season continues to fire on all cylinders, while the hard nuts Gleeson, Corrigan and Selwood provide the concrete platform that the entire side can build upon. Josh Cowan needs to be singled out for a champion match- he didn’t grab too much of it for himself, but the contests he created, the way he flung himself at North Ballarat- was something to behold. In three quarters of footy he laid six tackles and delivered two inside 50’s, but it was his un-statisticables that can only be recounted in words, his unrelenting effort, that impressed on Saturday.

Four quarter consistency:
Some games ebb and flow quite noticeably, but on the weekend it was all Geelong. Sure there were patches maybe a few minutes long where the Roosters got over the Cats press- but they were only minutes, minor lapses. The boys were in control for at least 90% of the match with fierce attack and close control over North Ballarats movement. They didn’t lose a single quarter on their way to a twelve goal demolition despite key forward Nathan Vardy’s early departure.

Bendigo Bank Cats: 18.19 (127) def 7.11 (53)
Goals: Bathie 4, Horlin-Smith 3, Gleeson, Raidme, Gibbs 2, Smedts, Barham, West, Walker, Hartman
Best: Smedts, Horlin-Smith, West, Brown, Gibbs, Gleeson Barham.
Reports: Nil
Injuries: Bews (ankle- during warm up), Vardy (concussion).
Crowd: 950@Simonds Stadium
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs